- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2018

It would be natural for longtime backup Philipp Grubauer to relish the opportunity of becoming the Capitals’ starting goaltender.

Grubauer, who steps in for the benched Braden Holtby for a third straight Capitals game on Monday, is a restricted NHL free agent at the end of the season — so the unexpected chance to showcase his skills couldn’t have come at a better time.

But right now, Grubauer said he’s focused on the task at hand.

“I’m not trying to show off or impress anybody,” Grubauer said. “I just want to play my game. I want to play solid back there, consistent. I think first year was a little up and down and last two years has been a little bit better. That’s all I’m looking for.”

The Capitals, after all, are focused on trying to regain their form and retake the Metropolitan Division lead — which changes almost daily. 

Coach Barry Trotz maintained he would decide the Capitals’ starting goaltender from game-to-game, but Grubauer, for now, has the edge on Holtby.

Grubauer hasn’t started this many consecutive games since the 2013-14 season when he started five straight.

Trotz said Grubauer “has earned the right” to start. The 26-year-old is coming off a shutout in San Jose where he recorded 24 saves. Since the All-Star break, Grubauer is 5-2 with a .941 save percentage.

“We’ll re-think every game,” Trotz said. “It’s just right now we’re in a playoff mode where we’ve got to put the people in that we feel we need all the components in right now. We need wins to make sure we’re guaranteed an invitation to the dance.”

The coach said Grubauer’s increased playing time also allows for Holtby to “reset” his game. With 14 games left in the regular season, the Capitals are walking a fine line, trying to balance the need for wins with the desire to get Holtby back on track. Holtby, Trotz said, has to get back to basics.

Holtby, who is giving up 4.62 goals per game since the break, said his struggles aren’t related to fatigue or technical aspects of his game.

Holtby added he needs to do a better job of avoiding the “snowball effect” of letting games get out of hand. 

“Even though sometimes you try too hard or you relax a little too much, it’s hard to find that comfortable medium where you’re not thinking, you’re just playing,” Holtby said. “As much as you can tell yourself that’s it’s all talk and mental prep, really the only way is to grind your way and work your way through it to get back. Because you don’t lose things overnight.”

Holtby said he’s a believer in earning playing time, adding Grubauer is giving the Capitals the best chance to win. He called Grubauer’s performance a “fortunate thing in an unfortunate situation.”

“He’s been able to play extremely well,” Holtby said. “And I can take a little time to clean up a couple of things, and can clear my head, clear the team’s head with that kind of stigma that’s kind of going on with me in net. Those things happen and the biggest thing is setting the right example to the young guys and everyone on the team that we’re all in this together, no matter who is playing.”

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